To dig up histories from the past when the Diamondbacks are making history at this very moment feels to me like putting water over a hot barbecue that is delivering the best spareribs you have eaten in a long time.
I was about to leave this #ThrowbackThursday for what it is until we swept the Dodgers (lol) in the NLDS (more lol) and advanced to the NLCS. That makes for a perfect set-up to look back at the two NLCS series the Diamondbacks played in the past, just like we reviewed the NLDS last week.
I will make a comment for next week’s article though: I only have one World Series to look back to, so the possible content for a throwback article is getting slimmer by the week.
2001 NLCS: Diamondbacks punch out the Braves (4-1)
Had the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks beaten a strong opponent like the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, what we read last week, in the NLCS it was a surprise that the Atlanta Braves was going to be the next enemy.
The Braves had defied the odds by sweeping the Houston Astros in their NLDS match-up. It wasn’t a surprise that Atlanta was playing in the play-offs, but they did so after their worst win-loss ratio in years, barely leaving the Phillies behind with 88 wins. But the Braves could still lean on a terrific pitching corps, led by future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux. However, their offence had been quite numb during the season, although they could still rally behind another future Hall-of-Famer, Chipper Jones. The third baseman was easily having one of the best seasons of his tremendous career and had knocked in 5 of the 13 runs the Braves scored against the Astros. The problem for the Braves was that except for Chipper Jones, they couldn’t really count on anyone else. Brian Jordan, right fielder, had been able to keep up during the season, but hadn’t been able to produce the same in the NLDS. The only other player to reckon with was Andruw Jones, who was still of importance defensively but also offensively. During the season he had been a bit below average, but against the Astros he had been riding a hot bat.
The problem for the Braves was, of course, that they had to face a strong rotation as well: Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. While Johnson hadn’t been able to achieve a victory in his NLCS appearance, he was slated to start at least twice during the series after Curt Schilling pitched twice in the NLDS.
Arizona splits the home games
Game 1 would be a game for the ages where the two future Hall-of-Famers Johnson and Maddux would go up against each other. Manager Bob Brenly had said before the game: “With Randy, you dread the intimidation and with Maddux, you dread the inevitable. They each go about their business in their own way. Randy is more of an overpowering, challenge-you-with-his-best-stuff kind of pitcher, where Greg Maddux will tease you and change speeds and move the ball in and out and up and down. It is quite a contrast in pitching styles. Generally, they get pretty much the same results.”
Randy needed a bit to get into his game and in the first inning he allowed a hit to Chipper Jones and needed 20 pitches to retire the side. After that not one Braves batter reached base until Johnson allowed a walk in the top of the 8th. In the 9th Randy had lost some of his gas and allowed two singles before recording his 11th and final strikeout to pitch once again a complete shut-out game with 125 pitches.
In between Greg Maddux had done his own as well and pitched 7 strong innings, but couldn’t keep up with the all dominant Big Unit. Maddux allowed 6 hits and 2 runs, the first one already in the bottom of the first, when a single from Reggie Sanders allowed Craig Counsell to cross home plate. Counsell would also cross home for a second time in the 5th inning, when Luis Gonzalez batted him in from second on a single, making it a 2-0 score that would hold until the end.
Game 2 wasn’t that much different from Game 1 for a long time, although the Braves would tie the series eventually with a big blowout win of 8-1. But that result doesn’t tell the tale of what actually happened. Just like Johnson in the game before, Miguel Batista had to settle into the game, but when he had done so, the Diamondbacks were already trailing 1-0. It was the first pitch of the entire game, a meatball, and Marcus Giles blew the ball into the left field stands. But Batista did what he was supposed to do: to keep the Diamondbacks in the game. He left the mound after 7 innings, giving up 3 runs on 2 hits, both homeruns, with the second being a 2-run homer from catcher Javy Lopez, after walking Andruw Jones in the previous at bat.
The Diamondbacks had squandered their opportunities. They left the bases loaded in the 2nd and two man on in the 6th, and thus Braves’ starter Tom Glavine only allowed 1 run on 5 hits in 7 innings of work. While the Diamondbacks were facing a difficult task in the 8th, trailing 3-1, the bullpen would make things even worse, clearly explained by Bob Brenly post-game: “When they miss their spots, the ball gets whacked.”
“The mixed bag of veterans and inexperienced youngsters”, as ESPN called them, allowed 5 more runs by courtesy of Mike Morgan, Greg Swindell and Bobby Witt. Like Braves’ right fielder Brian Johnson would say: “We have to be patient with their starters and get into that pen. I don’t mean to disrespect any of those guys at all, because they know how to get guys out, it’s just a lot different than Randy and Schilling.”
Turner field overtaken by Snakes
If the Braves were having any hopes at getting to the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, they knew they were climbing up a mountain at Turner Field, because the projected number 3 and number 5 starters were Curt Schilling and, once again, Randy Johnson.
But the Braves had a fearful man on the mound in Game 3 as well: righty John Burkett. Burkett was a 13-year old veteran who just had the best regular season of his career behind his back, including a complete game shutout 9-0 win over the Diamondbacks in April.
Against Curt Schilling, however, no team seemed to have a chance in the NLDS nor NLCS. Schilling would cruise once again through a play-off game. He pitched 9 innings, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 12 batters, on 127 pitches. By the time he got his final outs, the Diamondbacks had scored 5 runs. Burkett was tagged with them all, although he saw 3 of those when he was already on the bench. One of those 3 runs was one from Curt Schilling, who had scared Javy Lopez that much, that the catcher totally misplayed a throw from Chipper Jones and let two runs score.
Playing with a losing hand in the series, the Braves decided to use Greg Maddux on a short rest for game 4. They hoped for yet another strong performance of their ace and being able to bite into the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, knowing that Albie Lopez would start for Arizona. It was a well-thought theory and Lopez would indeed allow a lot of hard hits and fly balls, pushing Brenly to take the starter out of the game after 3 innings and 2 runs. But Maddux struggled even more. With some sloppy plays in the first inning, the Diamondbacks got two guys on base without even getting a hit. In the second inning a couple of good hits, but without any real damage. Then in the 3rd inning the Braves once again showed their defensive weaknesses with 3 errors and sloppy plays, allowing 4 D-Backs to cross home and taking a 4-2 lead. Could have been worse hadn’t Womack been caught stealing early in the inning.
Maddux comes out in the 4th inning again, but is definitely not at his best. He allows two more runs to get in and leaves the game with no outs and the Diamondbacks leading 6-2. Brian Anderson gets the win after a useful 3.1 inning performance, with also Miguel Batista appearing as a reliever. The Diamondbacks walk away with a huge 11-4 win and know that Randy Johnson will probably propel the team to a 4-1 series win the following day.
Although that did happen, it was very much a battle. Not because of a bad performance from Johnson, not at all, he was once again at his finest and went 7 strong innings. The Braves’ batters gave up much more of a fight than in the previous games, achieving 7 hits, but mustering only two runs. The Braves went once again with a starter on a rather short rest, this time game 2 starter Tom Glavine. Glavine pitched well though, although he couldn’t achieve the same result as Johnson, allowing 3 runs, two on a crucial Erubiel Durazo homerun in the 5th inning.
That 3-1 lead would be enough for Randy Johnson to protect in 7 innings, although he would allow a second run to cross home plate, before handing the ball over to Kim who got the final 6 outs and the save in the remaining 2 scoreless innings.
The rest after that NLCS is history.
2007 NLCS: the big hits never came (4-0).
In 2007 the Diamondbacks entered the NLCS after sweeping the Cubs in the NLDS. The Diamondbacks surely were in something of a momentum, but the Rockies were also red hot in the play-offs after sweeping the Phillies in their NLDS matchup. They were on a big winning streak that started at the end of the regular season and had also taken 11 of 19 games from the Diamondbacks in the regular season. Calling either the Rockies or the Diamondbacks favourites for this series was plausible.
The tone of the Diamondbacks’ fate in this series was set from the beginning. Already in Game 1 it was a frustrating battle where the Rockies scored off Brian Webb with what the pitcher would call: “bloops over short and second, tough luck, there’s really nothing you can do.” Indeed, the Rockies didn’t outhit the Diamondbacks (9 vs 8), but achieved a solid 5-1 win, which probably let to much frustration to the Diamondbacks fans and the game getting interrupted when bottles were thrown onto the field after Justin Upton was tossed out of the game after an aggressive slide into 2nd base.
The second game at Chase Field was a long one. 4 hours and 26 minutes had the players and fans to endure before the Rockies came once again as victor off the field. It was a tough ending for the Diamondbacks, who once again outhit the Rockies but came up short after the normally trustworthy Jose Valverde walked in the 3-2. It was a rough 11th inning for Valverde, who gave up a hit and 3 walks and threw 42 innings before being taken out, and eventually ending up with the loss. Before that the Diamondbacks had squandered opportunities with the bases loaded in the 5th and in the bottom 9th, when Byrnes had reached on an error and Drew was tagged out on a walk towards the dugout after he thought he had been called out at 2B but was actually called safe. Yet another night full of frustrations.
The series went to Coors Field to continue Rocktober with the Rockies leading 2-0 despite a .221 batting average and 22 strikeouts in two games. Had Ubaldo Jiménez and Doug Davis turned in solid and similar performances in game 2, in game 3 it was once again a balanced pitching performance from Liván Hernández for the Diamondbacks and Josh Fogg for the Rockies. Again, the Diamondbacks outhit their opponent, but the big hits never came. While both teams had put a run on board in the first 5 innings with a homerun, the biggest hit came in the bottom of the 6th when Yorvit Torrealba launched a 3 run homer into left field on a rainy Denver night. Unlike in the previous games, the Diamondbacks really never had a good opportunity to win. “That’s kind of been the theme of this series so far. They’ve gotten that one big hit where we haven’t”, said Bob Melvin post-game.
The tale of the Diamondbacks in the NLCS continued in the following and final game 4 of the series. When the smoke was cleared, the Diamondbacks once again had outhit their opponent, but were swept, going overall 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position and scoring just eight times. They were close to a comeback in game 4, scoring 3 runs in the 8th inning, but by then the Diamondbacks had already been trailing 6-1 after Micah Owings gave up 6 runs in a terrible 4th inning, although 4 runs were unearned, including a 3 run homerun, after Conor Jackson could not field a ground ball at first base and record the 3rd out, which would have kept the game close at 2-1.
The Rockies’ good luck though, would crash hard in the World Series.
Do you remember these two NLCS series like they have been described?
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Yes and no, let me share my memories…
Noooo! Let me tell how it really went.